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Exhibitions and Projects
Revelations | 4 March−1 Sept. 2021

Revelations: Janez Potočnik (1749−1834)


In 1924, art historian Izidor Cankar catalogued and published a convolute of drawings by Janez Potočnik that painter Simon Ogrin had donated to National Gallery some time beforehand. Cankar was obviously not aware of either Potočnik's drawings of the same kind in the collections of the National Museum of Slovenia in red chalk and sepia, or of a batch of expressive heads from the State Arts and Crafts School in Ljubljana, accessioned in the National Gallery of Slovenia after 1945. The complete tripartite collection of drawings lends a very different perspective on the question of Potočnik's education. Cankar knew only drawings after Roman and baroque sculpture drawn after reproductive prints and certain nudes after live model. Among them was a drawing of a sitting male nude in red chalk cut above his waist at verso of a head of a man with turban. Cankar refuted any possibility of Potočnik's education in Vienna since his name had not been found among the matriculates of the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna.

Deducing from the account by Simon Ogrin, we think that the drawings as an ensemble came to the market between Potočnik's death in 1834 and 1870. Two of the "academies" are dated 1776, while the Portrait of Michelangelo Zois must have been drawn before the latter's death on August 27th, 1777. The quality of the heads after sculpture and the nudes, particularly those at the National Museum of Slovenia, manifests a surprising range. The whole encompasses almost a complete curricular program eight semesters worth that a gifted artist could absolve sooner. Among the heads and nudes after statuary only the Torso Belvedere is signed. On the assumption that almost all unsigned drawings also are by Potočnik's hand, we can date the sculpture heads,Michelangelo Zois Portrait inclusive, statuary, and certain nudes before 1776 and the expressive heads and nudes in red chalk or sepia after this year. If the entire bequest is taken as a document of a study process, Potočnik’s study period should be fixed between 1774 and 1778 or even 1780, when he emerged as an independent painter.

But which institution could offer Potočnik this kind of education, if not one in Vienna? Particularly the expressive heads manifest a disciplined engraving line of burr starting hair-thin, swelling and tapering out, repeated in complex parallel and diagonal crosshatching. The models for most of the expressive heads can be attributed to Jakob Mathias Schmutzer (1733−1811), trained in Paris as a printmaker, the founder of the Printmaking and Drawing School in Vienna in 1767, incorporated to the imperial Akademie der bildenden Künste in 1772. The identified models date from 1767 (Portrait of the Fencing Master Freiheit) through a Male Nude dated 1776, which would place Potočnik's proficiency at the beginning of the second half of the curriculum. Heads and nudes after Schmutzer are drawn on a handmade paper with watermarks we can identify on a Schmutzer original drawing at the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna. Above all the material aspect of the drawings indicates an institution with a firm academic curriculum unavailable in the province of Carniola.

As this presentation had been written, a message arrived from the Akademie der Bildende Künste archives that Johann Pototschnig (Janez Potočnik) was matriculated to the Printmaking Academy in Vienna (Kupferstecherakademie) in 1775 and that his name so far has been read wrongly as Pogatschnig.

Andrej Smrekar
4 March–1 September 2021
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana